Saturday, March 24, 2018

Coping with Other's Cancer

When you are diagnosed with cancer, you are faced with the World of Oncology. Inside that world lies the answers to your questions and how to keep you alive. As you go through diagnosis and treatment, you get to educate yourself on your illness and what's involved in getting through it.

Oncologists have to go to medical school to learn all this crap. Us patients get the express pass and learn it much faster and more intimately. Doctor's say 'may cause nausea and hair loss'. We know it means we will watch our hair fall out as we shop for a wig and try to keep something in our stomachs. We learn what the truth really is and how to translate their words. A year into treatment, we are pretty educated in 'oncology' and can help others.

My father was diagnosed with cancer in 2013, I got to be his entry into the Great Oncology Wall. He was diagnosed with Waldenstrom's lymphoma, a very indolent type, which is only treated when symptomatic. He was symptomatic so he started chemotherapy which ended up destroying his immune system.

Through all of his treatment my father used me as his source of information. Where to find good information on his disease and its treatment?  (and, no, Wikipedia is not a good source of medical information.) At every proposed test or medical misadventure, he would call me and ask me if I had had it and what was it like.

When his veins were destroyed through chemo, he had to get a port.When  he got his port, his next question was 'when do I get it out?'. The doctors wouldn't say anything. Finally, I said 'after you don't need it for six months, you can ask your doctor about getting it out'. He pondered that and was fine.

In May 2017 he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He asked me to come to all his appointments so I could 'translate'. I would bring my list of questions that I thought we needed answers for. He didn't always agree with me but I still go the answers. I thought we should ask the oncologist 'what are the chances that this chemo protocol will work?' when he insisted there must be more chemo options and wanted to continue to try treatment. He didn't like negative answers to that.

He also cracked jokes all the time with the nurses and doctors. He criticized my wheelchair driving abilities but I complained he was the one who taught me to drive. He also would introduce me to his doctors as his daughter with more ailments.

Last fall he stopped asking me to go to his oncology appointments because I agreed more with the oncologist than with him about continuing treatment. But after three CT scans showing continued tumor growth (he would call it 'they are going forth and multiplying'), he finally asked me to take him to his fourth CT scan and following oncology appointment again. He was starting to feel weak and confessed that because of the number of meds he had to take as he was allergic to the CT contrast he wasn't supposed to drive himself. (He had selective hearing for medical advice he didn't like.)

Before his appointment, I had a discussion with him about what the oncologist might say about what the CT scan might find. We talked about quality of life and maybe it might be better without the dragging down of chemo might be better. Because I asked my pushy questions, and agreed with the oncologist that there really weren't more options for him, he agreed to stop chemo. It was a whirlwind and I think he was pleased.  It meant less doctor appointments which were beginning to tire him.

But it also meant that we moved on to his next stage in his cancer journey, when the hospice nurses showed up and could answer many more questions honestly than I was able. But he kept his sense of humor to the end.

For the past year I have not written about my father's cancer. It wasn't my story to tell. But now I am able to share and write through some of my stress. I will continue to write to help me cope better.


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Anna said...

We should be strong to support.

Nancy Stordahl said...

Hi Caroline,

I am sorry your father died. I had no idea he was ill. I understand why you respected his privacy and didn't write about it. I hope you do write about it now. Grief is a tough road. As you know all too well. Thank you for sharing about this. Again, I'm sorry.

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